By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Day one of tornado debris removal ended Monday with the first dents in piles lining Tupelo neighborhood streets.
Lee County residents outside the city, meanwhile, can expect to see their first crews today.
A total of 2,559 cubic yards of debris was collected in the city by workers who were on duty until 7 p.m.
A dozen or more debris removal trucks in Tupelo should be operating today, twice as many as Monday, and the fleet will continue to build toward 20 trucks operating in six of the city’s residential areas.
Bristow Acres resident Larry McMahan didn’t get his debris picked up the first day, but he’s feeling better just the same.
“It’s a good sign that they’ve started,” said McMahan, who lost four trees and received repairable damage to his house.
Residents watching debris removal smiled as they saw trucks with mechanical arms reaching into yards to collect fallen trees and limbs.
“Getting the first round of debris up gives the visual that, ‘Yes, there is a recovery,’ ” said Lee County administrator Sean Thompson.
The EF3 tornado that hit April 28 with wind speeds of up to 150 mph left an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of debris in Lee County and Tupelo, about 80 percent of it in the city. Each debris removal truck used in the city can hold about 125 cubic yards.
Debris removal could take as long as 90 days to complete but city officials are optimistic it will take less.
Overall recovery of businesses will likely take much longer.
“It like a line from an old country song: You’ve got to get it started if you want to get it done,” Mayor Jason Shelton said at a brief stop in the Joyner neighborhood.
Corey Smith, president of Picayune-based Arx Disaster Management, which oversees monitoring of debris pickup, watched as employees used iPads to take photos of debris loading to help keep track of how much and what kind of material is collected.
“The whole process has to be documented from the start,” Smith said. “We’re working hand-in-hand to make sure all of the debris FEMA allows for collection is documented.”
Tupelo and Lee County were designated as national disaster areas by President Barack Obama, so they qualify for federal aid to cover most costs of storm recovery. State and federal taxpayers will likely shoulder the bulk of the cost of debris removal throughout the state.